I called a young colleague Ben today. It’s not his name. He wasn’t bothered, he laughed it off and asked if Ben was my son’s name (cheeky bugger). It’s not. Ben is the name of the main character in the novel I’m working on.
I think maybe I’m just a little disoriented. It happens sometimes when I’m writing. I get so totally engrossed in the reality I’m creating that perspectives blur and it takes a bit of time to remember which reality is which. Or who I’m really talking to.
It wasn’t so bad when I was writing the first two novels. Those worlds were a little easier to distinguish between. Maybe because the characters were younger. But it’s different now. The manuscript I’m working on at the moment is targeted to older YAs, 16-24-year-olds, and it’s at third draft stage. This is the stage where the plot and sub-plots are all consuming. Loose ends get tied up, holes are plugged, and story arcs smoothed. And it dominates the consciousness.
It’s always a huge relief to hear other writers talk about the way their characters speak to them; the solitary conversations while they’re walking the dog, or driving, or shopping, or lying in bed playing with insomnia. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one who conducts entire conversations with imaginary companions. The concern that I may be teetering on the edge of sanity is often mitigated after such revelations.
I know that these ‘voices in my head’ would, under any other circumstances probably be cause for alarm. But at the moment, I have to talk with my 20-something main character to find out how he responds to that issue he has to deal with well enough to make the link and fill that plot-hole in chapter 23. I have to be open to hear what he has to say without confusing his reactions with those of the young (well, younger than me anyway) people I know; people like my friend’s sone, or my daughter friend, or that grown-up I taught all those years ago.
Our characters are often compilations of people we know, or have known. Elements of many combine to create an authentic representation of the emotions, actions and reactions, that make someone human. And that’s where people-watching (not stalking as my daughter sometimes likes to call it) comes in very handy. It helps to fine-tune details of particular mannerisms, and adds breadth to descriptions, all of which contribute to making that human an individual. Fallible. Vulnerable. Real.
The difficulty at the moment with blurred realities is because I’m writing a psychological thriller type narrative. And it’s scary. Because I know people like this. Not just as victims, but also as perpetrators; people capable of these horrible things. I’ve talked to them, worked with them, had coffee with them. I’m not saying those people have actually committed these heinous crimes, but I bet they’re capable of it. Sends shivers down my spine.
It’s when you start calling the nice people around you by the names of the characters you’re creating that you start getting the raised eyebrow. And feeling a little awkward.
Now, who was I talking to…?